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When the hunter becomes the hunted: VW chairman Ferdinand Piëch

The tables appear to have turned on VW's patriarch. Initially set on an aggressive course against CEO Martin Winterkorn, Ferdinand Piëch was forced to backpedal. Now does he have to worry about his position?

It was a tough birthday for Ferdinand Piëch. On Friday (17.04.2015), the most powerful man at VW's special day, it emerged that he had lost a power struggle within his company that, apparently, could now cost him his position at the top of the automaker's all-powerful supervisory board.

Two major German newspapers are reporting on Sunday (19.04.2015) that Piëch faced a "revolt" during a closed-door meeting of the six select members of that board, the steering committee, which convened on Thursday in Salzburg to determine the fate of VW CEO Martin Winterkorn.

"The majority of the board is against [Piëch]," said the Sunday editions of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the Bild Zeitung, quoting a board representative present at the Salzburg meeting. According to the anonymous source, Piëch had initially refused to agree to a statement drafted by the five other members of the committee in support of Winterkorn. On Friday, when he turned 78, he finally backed down and signed onto the agreement that would not only keep the current CEO in his position for now, but also extend Winterkorn's contract beyond 2016.

Short distance

The leadership crisis at VW was initiated a week earlier, when German news magazine Der Spiegel published an article quoting Piëch as saying: "I'm distancing myself from Winterkorn."

All it took was one sentence to steer VW and its complicated ownership structure off the proverbial road. The article's publication met with a week of speculation among observers in the auto industry that ensued until the results emerged from Thursday's meeting.

"[Piëch] has lost a small battle, but the war is nowhere near over," said Stefan Bratzel, professor for automobile economics in Bergisch Gladbach, adding that Winterkorn's future at VW - despite the contract extension - is anything but secure.

"To be able to act, Winterkorn will have to have the board's complete backing, not just parts of it," Bratzel said in an interview in Saturday's edition of the Nordwest-Zeitung.

When it comes to solidifying leadership plans, VW's top brass are going to have to move fast. On May 5, at the annual assembly, the head of the supervisory board and the CEO - whoever that may be - will have to present the future plans to Volkswagen's shareholders.

glb/sms (dpa, AFP)

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